Parenting or working - which is harder?

Since leaving university my career trajectory has been pretty straight - go to work, work hard, hope for a pay rise. When Maisie, our first, was born I felt the pressure to work even harder as I was now providing for a family. Shortly before Frances, our second, was born I had changed jobs and felt that I needed to establish myself in the workplace so again needed to work even harder.

Occasionally Susie would raise the issue of me working part-time to help her return to the workforce. These conversations always resulted in me doing some quick mental sums: take a 20% pay-cut, complete a full 5 day work load in 4 days, constantly be referred to in all staff meetings and negotiations as "less than full-time" (like it is a rare kind of disease) and spend my "day off" kid wrangling. As appealing as all that sounds . . .

But recently strange cosmic forces aligned to force me to reconsider the whole "less than full-time" issue. Firstly Susie and I decided that 12-month-old Rita would be the last in our stellar run of baby girls. Knowing that we weren't going to be having any more babies in the house made me pretty nostalgic and, knowing how incredibly quickly they grow up, I wanted to find a way to at least pause a bit with baby Rita. Also, Susie's work had been understandably appreciative of her many skills and very keen for her to give as much time to her paid employment as she could. For her part, Susie was keen to spend some time applying her mind to problems other than what could be done with half-a-dozen empty toilet roll holders and a fist-full of pipe cleaners.

So finally I plucked up the courage to broach the issue with my employer. I was prepared for my boss to break down and demand to know how the company could possibly manage without me present for one day a week. I was also prepared for my colleagues to demand that I not leave them rudderless for a day, that I stay and continue to give them priceless advice and peerless guidance. I wasn't prepared, however, for my boss to say "Of course you should spend a day with your child, Joe. What else would you do?"

So having discovered that my boss was far more enlightened on issues of work-life balance than I was, I was forced to consider the reality of what one day a week at home with a twelve month old would be like. After some careful planning I had a routine worked out:

8.30: Drop Frances at Kinder.

8.45: Drop Maisie at school.

9.00: Drop Rita at the YMCA crèche.

9.00 - 10.30: Workout at the gym.

11.00: Make the baby session at the movies with Rita.

1.00: Have lunch at some impossibly groovy cafe.

2.00 -3.15: Work on my award winning novel.

3.30: Pick up Maisie and Frances.

4.00 on: Make a meal to make Matt Preston weep, feed and bath the kids and have them ready to line up and sing ‘Edelweiss’ as Susie walks through the front door.

When I outlined this plan to Susie it took her close to an hour to stop laughing. When she did draw breath all she had for me was questions. "When will Rita sleep? Don't you think you've set a lot of tasks? Do you know you’ll be lucky to complete one of these tasks? Are you scared of spending time with your daughter?"

The fact was I WAS scared of spending time with my daughter. At work, if there’s something I can’t handle I either dump it on someone more junior or blame it on someone more senior. That approach doesn’t work on an irate one-year-old. All my years sharpening my skills in the had-to-hand combat of office politics were not going to equip me for placating the endless needs of an infant. What was needed was an entirely new set of skills.

So over the last couple of months I’ve had a crash course in assessing and meeting the needs of another person. I have learnt to tell when Rita is hungry, when she needs a nap, when her discomfort is caused by a growing tooth or the need to burp. I have developed the delicate skill of keeping a little person entertained while not getting her over-excited. And I have learnt, by trial and error, that ignoring a stinky nappy does not make it go away. But, most importantly, I have learnt to travel at someone else’s pace. The measurement of a good day is how happy Rita is at the end of it and not how many tasks I ticked off a list.

While at work I might be “less than full-time", I’m happy to say that at home I am now “more than single skilled”. In fact, my skills in looking after Rita have come on so fast Susie thinks I can add a few more skills to the list – playing in the garden and hanging out the washing being just one of the suggestions. I think being a parent is hard enough without having to add to the task.

Do you mix work and parenting? Which do you find harder? Are there skills you have as a parent you apply at work? Have your say on Joseph's blog.